Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for allowing us to be here to provide information on indigenous languages in Canada as part of your study of the interpretation of indigenous languages in the House of Commons.
I would like first to acknowledge that we are on traditional Algonquin territory and that the language traditionally spoken in this territory is referred to as Algonquin or Maniwaki Algonquin.
My name is William Fizet. I'm the Director General of the Citizenship Participation Branch, and within that branch we have the aboriginal peoples' program.
Budget 2017 allocated $19.5 million to the aboriginal languages initiative annually until 2019-20, which is three times more than previous allocations. In 2017-18, it supported 203 projects, which implemented participatory activities and developed resources in indigenous languages. Seventy-three languages or dialects received support from ALI in that year.
The Government of Canada recognizes that languages are an essential element of culture. Thus, indigenous languages are an essential element of indigenous culture. Indigenous people have used and continue to use their languages to describe the world they live in, to make sense of it, and to teach their cultures and values to their children.
Indigenous people were prevented from using and transmitting their languages through policies like that of the residential schools. Indigenous languages need support to be revitalized. To use them in the public domain, in the House of Commons, would have a great symbolic value.
The discussion about the usage of indigenous languages in our institutions needs to be held alongside a discussion on vitality of languages and the important revitalization efforts made by the indigenous communities themselves. The vitality of indigenous languages is assessed through a series of factors, including the proportion of speakers to the total population and average age of mother tongue speakers. Right now, not all indigenous people are able to speak their language. Moreover, the way languages and dialects are counted is complicated.
Let me share some overarching general information from Statistics Canada on this matter. Census 2016 revealed that approximately 1.6 million people reported an indigenous identity. A little more than one in six, which is approximately 260,000, reported being able to conduct a conversation in an indigenous language. A little more than 210,000 people reported having an indigenous language as their mother tongue. In 2016, the average age of mother tongue speakers had increased to 36.7 years. In 2011, the average age was 35 years old. When compared to the 1981 data, it shows an increase of more than nine years. However, there are exceptions, and those can be found with mother tongues of lnuktitut, which is an Inuit language, Atikamekw, and Naskapi, where the average approximate age is 26 years.
We see overall declining trends in percentages reporting an aboriginal mother tongue or language knowledge, and increasing average ages of mother-tongue speakers and the data indicate similar patterns and trends for males and females. The various indigenous languages spoken in Canada are reflective of the richness of indigenous cultures in Canada.
We know that linguists generally identify 11 indigenous language families that cross international borders, however, there is no definitive list of indigenous languages and dialects spoken in Canada, and we learn more about the languages every year.
Census 2016 revealed that the indigenous languages with more than 10,000 mother tongue speakers are Cree languages, lnuktitut, Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Dene and lnnu.
One other main source of information about indigenous languages is UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. UNESCO maintains a list of 90 indigenous languages for Canada. This list was first established in 2008 by Canadian researcher Mary Jane Norris, who used data from previous censuses and a review of literature to establish the nomenclature. The list is updated regularly and now contains 2011 census data; it will continue to be updated as additional information becomes available.
Languages on the list are linked to the community with the largest number of speakers. Thus the list does not illustrate the actual dispersion of speakers in any given province or territory.
UNESCO's list includes the classification of languages based on their level of endangerment. The scale is based on the level of use of a language across generations. In the UNESCO scale, there are levels of endangerment for languages. For example, a language is deemed “vulnerable” if it is used by some children and in all domains such as school, home, work, and ceremonies. A language is “critically endangered” if it is used only by some of the great-grandparental generation. Other levels are “definitely endangered” and “severely endangered”. All indigenous languages in Canada are deemed “endangered”. Some languages are secondarily surviving such as Huron-Wendat, meaning that they have been brought back, while some are dormant and could potentially be revived. Others, we have to be frank, have become extinct.
For the 2016 census, StatsCan reported on 70 indigenous languages. The analysis shows that indigenous people who shared their information have reported more than 70 indigenous languages. StatsCan includes only the languages meeting the threshold of 45 speakers in the information released. The new list of 70 languages represents an increase from the 60 reported in the 2011 National Household Survey.
An important difference between the StatsCan data and the UNESCO list is found in the classifications of languages of the north. Census 2016 identifies four Inuit languages or dialects, while the UNESCO list identifies eight languages or dialects. Also, StatsCan refers to Algonquin as the language spoke in this traditional territory, while UNESCO uses the name Maniwaki Algonquin.
Canadian Heritage is currently supporting research with Mary Jane Norris to further our knowledge and classification of indigenous languages in Canada. I should note, however, that the complexity of the matter is such that there is not a definitive number of indigenous languages or any consensus in their classification. The update that we're embarking on will ensure that the 2016 data is used to understand the health and trends of indigenous languages. This work will also increase the information available on the various names used to identify indigenous languages.
These languages are currently identified by names that can have various linguistic origins such as the actual indigenous language, different indigenous languages, French, or English. Ultimately, however, communities have the knowledge and the final say to validate that information.
Lastly, we have to consider the writing systems used for various indigenous languages. Among others, the Roman alphabet and the syllabic system are used to write indigenous languages. Graphic symbols are taken from the International Phonetic Alphabet and blocks have been created in 1999 and 2009 to add characters. They're referred to as the Unicode Block “Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics” and the Unicode Block “Unified Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics Extended”.
Standardization of systems is ongoing and this may lead to considering how IT elements might need to be adjusted to complement the work you're doing.
I'll now turn to the levels of endangerment for the 90 languages that UNESCO speaks to. There are 23 vulnerable and unsafe languages. There are five languages that are “definitely endangered”. There are 27 “severely endangered” languages, and there are 35 languages that UNESCO considers to be “critically endangered”. This last category means the language is used mostly by the great-grandparental generation and up. On average, the age of indigenous speakers has been increasing.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like first to thank the members of the committee for inviting Statistics Canada to appear before the committee to contribute to its study on the use of indigenous languages in proceedings of the House of Commons.
My presentation will cover three main topics. I will begin by presenting some general statistics on the very wide diversity of indigenous languages spoken in Canada, their number and distribution across the country, as well as the language variables available in the census that can be used to inform us of the status of the indigenous languages in this country. I will subsequently present general historical trends on spoken indigenous languages and their relative vitality. I will conclude with key factors and indicators of the vitality and long-term viability of indigenous languages in Canada.
Indigenous languages spoken in Canada are of great importance to first nations people, Métis and Inuit. More than 70 indigenous languages were reported in the 2016 Census. The vast majority of these languages are unique to Canada and, as with most indigenous languages globally, they are not spoken anywhere else in the world. This is just one of the many reasons that the preservation and revitalization of their languages is of great importance.
The Census of Population provides several measures of the use and knowledge of indigenous languages. The number of individuals with an indigenous language as their mother tongue is counted, as is the language spoken most often or on a regular basis at home, the language used at work, and the language in which they can conduct a conversation.
In 2016 the overall national response rate for the census was 97.4%. Statistics Canada works with indigenous organizations and communities on an ongoing basis to improve participation in surveys and the census. As in previous years, census staff conducted door-to-door enumeration of households in reserve communities as well as in remote and northern communities. The census questionnaires were made available in 11 indigenous languages: Atikamekw, Denesuline, Dogrib, Inuktitut, Montagnais, northern Quebec Cree, Oji-Cree, Ojibwa, Plains Cree, and Swampy Cree.
Overall, the coverage and participation in the 2016 census was excellent. Although 14 out of the 984 census subdivisions classified as reserves were incompletely enumerated in 2016, which could affect counts for some specific languages, the proportion of such incompletely enumerated census subdivisions has systematically decreased over time.
The census, with its expansive reach across the country, remains one of the most comprehensive sources of information about indigenous languages in Canada. As stated, more than 70 languages were reported. In 2016, as shown in the tables provided to the committee, about 213,000 reported an indigenous language as their mother tongue—that is, the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood. Nearly 264,000 people reported that they were able to conduct a conversation in one of the 70 aboriginal languages. This is to say that there are 24% more speakers of an indigenous language than people who have an indigenous language as their mother tongue. This is an indication of the importance of the acquisition of these languages as a second language.
Of the 70 indigenous languages spoken, 36 languages had at least 500 speakers. The Cree languages, which are spoken primarily in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, accounted for just under 100,000 speakers, or 37% of all speakers of an indigenous language in Canada.
Inuktitut, the second most common indigenous language, is mainly spoken in Nunavut and Nunavik and had slightly less than 41,000 speakers.
Ojibway and Oji-Cree, spoken primarily in Ontario and Manitoba, accounted for 28,000 and 15,600 speakers, respectively, while the approximately 13,000 Dene speakers were mainly in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Four other Algonquian languages—Montagnais, Mi'kmaq, Atikamekw, and Blackfoot—grouped together had nearly 33,000 speakers.
Considering that almost 9 in 10 of all speakers of an indigenous language in the country spoke one of these nine languages or groups of languages, this means that many other indigenous languages have very few speakers
As a result, these are generally considered by several specialists as threatened or destined to an uncertain future. The average age of these indigenous language populations varies considerably from one group to the other. For example, the average age of the population with Inuktitut as a mother tongue was 27 in 2016 compared with 61 for the population with Michif as a mother tongue.
The language profiles of first nations people, Métis and Inuit vary considerably. In 2016, two out of three Inuit stated they could speak an Inuit language well enough to conduct a conversation, predominantly Inuktitut. Among first nations people, more than 21% said they spoke an indigenous language, whereas among the Metis, less than 2% stated they were able to do the same.
Among the 73% of Inuit living in the Inuit Nunangat, 84% could speak an Inuit language, while this was true for 11% of those residents outside the Inuit Nunangat. Similarly, 45% of first nations with registered Indian status, who lived on a reserve, could speak an indigenous language, compared with just over 13% of those living off-reserve.
The place of residence, concentration, and proportion of members of a community on its territory are among the factors influencing the propensity to know and use an indigenous language.
The census allows us to look at change over time. Between 1996 and 2016, the population reporting the ability to conduct a conversation in an indigenous language increased from 234,000 people to nearly 264,000, an increase of 12.8%. However, it is important to note that the indigenous population increased at a much faster pace. The pace of growth of the indigenous-language-speaking population is not keeping pace with the growth of the indigenous population overall.
The story of long-term viability is different for every language. For example, in 2016 the number of people who could speak either Cree, Ojibwe, or Oji-Cree was roughly the same as it was 20 years earlier, that is, over 125,000. On the other hand, the number of Dene speakers grew by almost 15% over the 20-year period.
The census shows that the number of people who can speak an Inuit language has increased. In 1996 there were just over 30,000 people in Canada who could speak Inuktitut. By 2016 this number had risen by 34%, with more than 2,000 others who were available to speak other Inuit languages such as Inuinnaqtun or Inuvialuktun.
Not all indigenous languages fared well over this period. Languages with smaller and older populations are particularly vulnerable. The number of people who could speak one of the Wakashan languages, such as Haisla or Heiltsuk, declined by almost 25%. Similarity, the number of people who could speak Carrier went down by 27% over the 20-year period.
Past events have severely affected the vitality of indigenous languages in Canada. For example, the residential school system under which generations of indigenous children were not permitted to speak their mother tongue had enormous impacts upon intergenerational transmission of indigenous languages.
Unlike other language groups in Canada, people speaking in an indigenous language cannot rely on new immigrants to maintain or increase their population of speakers. Passing on the language from parents to children is critical for all indigenous languages to survive. High fertility rates and strong intergenerational language transmission thus contribute to a young and vibrant language community.
Moreover, although learning an indigenous language, at home in childhood, as a primary language is a crucial element of the long-term viability of indigenous languages, second-language learning can be an important part of language revitalization. Efforts to preserve and revitalize indigenous languages through second-language learning are under way across the country. These efforts include incorporating indigenous language instruction in classrooms, creating standard orthographies, and developing language immersion programs.
This explains why, particularly among youth, the population able to conduct a conversation in an indigenous language is larger than the population with indigenous language as a mother tongue. Considering revitalization efforts is particularly important in light of the results of the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey. In this survey we learned that 59% of first nations living off reserve and 37% of Métis reported that it is very important or somewhat important to speak or understand an indigenous language. Among Inuit, the proportion reached 81%.
Let me conclude by saying that numerous studies on indigenous languages point to a number of key factors that have an impact on the vitality and future of these languages. Although the numbers of speakers of indigenous languages could be considered precariously small, the domains in which these languages are spoken play a key role. For instance, the use of indigenous languages at home, at school, during social and cultural events, and throughout community life has a strong impact on their vitality and long-term viability.
The vitality of a given indigenous language also depends on the presence of a critical mass of speakers within the community, the presence of a network of social relations using the language, and the intergenerational transmission of a language from parents to children, as a mother tongue or as a second language. Studies have also shown that the vitality of indigenous languages also depends on the strong identity of their speakers and on whether there is an internal or external recognition of the language as distinct and unique within society. This recognition can therefore confer status and prestige through a language.
In conclusion, allow me to say that Statistics Canada recognizes the importance of engaging first nations people, Métis, and Inuit throughout all stages of the data life cycle, in understanding data needs and gaps, determining content, and ensuring relevance of the analysis and statistical products that we deliver. The high quality of the language and other data we gather would not be possible without their participation in the census and other surveys. Our measures of indigenous languages and other characteristics of the indigenous population of Canada have evolved and will continue to evolve over time as we work with communities and organizations to improve the way data are collected, in a way that is respectful of their rights to self-determination.
Thank you, and it is with pleasure that my colleagues Vivian O'Donnell, Pamela Best, and I will answer your questions.
[Witness speaks in Dene]
My name is Cheryle Herman. I am from Clearwater River Dene Nation located near La Loche, Saskatchewan. I am a fluent speaker of the Denesuline language. I am here as an ambassador of indigenous languages, to share my own and other individuals' thoughts on the importance of using our indigenous languages in House of Commons proceedings.
To use indigenous languages in the House of Commons would be an acknowledgement of the original inhabitants of the land and it would mean that the government honours and respects this fact. It would also demonstrate that the government is working toward righting historical injustices and toward a more inclusive and collaborative relationship.
Indigenous languages encompass who we are as indigenous people. Communication in our languages is sacred. Without our languages and our cultures, we are no longer indigenous. Our language defines who we are and where we come from, and is therefore essential to our survival as a nation.
Language connects us to the spiritual ground. The intent of all communication is embedded with strength, clarity, and purpose when spoken in our mother tongue.
Language impacts the daily lives of members of all races, creeds, and regions of the world. Language helps express our feelings, desires, and queries to the world around us. Words, gestures, and tone are utilized in union to portray a broad spectrum of emotion.
The unique and diverse methods that human beings can use to communicate through written and spoken language are a large part of what allows us to harness our innate ability to form lasting bonds with one another. They also separate humankind from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Additionally, the ability to communicate in multiple languages is becoming more and more important in the increasingly integrated global business community. Communicating directly with new clients and companies in their native language is one of the first steps to forming a lasting, stable international business relationship.
The strength and value of verbal agreements in our languages leads to stronger, respectful, and honourable relationships. Being able to do this automatically puts any multilingual person miles ahead of his or her peers in the competition for jobs in high-prestige positions.
Language is such a key aspect to setting up children for success in their future professional endeavours. The government can be a part of their successful future by using indigenous languages in the House of Commons. This may help our indigenous children pursue a future as a leader for their people, or for all of Canada, with confidence, knowing they can speak their indigenous language in the House of Commons.
Although indigenous languages are currently not recognized as official languages in this country, it is important that we value those languages just as we do English and French. In doing so, we affirm the significance of the people who use those languages as forms of communication.
Our languages are still very much alive and are the only form of communication for some of our elders. Therefore, when proceedings are conducted in French and English without any translation for indigenous people, those people do not receive the information that may be of relevance to them and to their government.
We need to continue to advocate to speak our indigenous languages in our places of business in order for them to thrive.
I would like to share some additional points to ponder in consideration of our plight to maintain our indigenous languages. One, indigenous languages create more positive attitudes and less prejudice toward people who are different. Two, analytical skills improve when one speaks an indigenous language. Three, business skills plus indigenous language skills make employees more valuable in the marketplace. Four, dealing with another culture enables people to gain a more profound understanding of their own culture. Five, creativity is increased with the study of indigenous languages. Six, skills like problem-solving and dealing with abstract concepts are increased. Seven, speaking an indigenous language enhances one's opportunities in government, business, medicine, law, technology, military, industry, marketing, etc. Eight, a second language improves skills and grades. Nine, it provides a competitive edge in career choices when one is able to communicate in a second language. Ten, it enhances listening skills and memory. Eleven, one participates more effectively and responsibly in a multicultural world if one knows another language. Twelve, marketable skills in the global economy are improved if you master another language. Thirteen, it offers a sense of the past culturally and linguistically. Fourteen, it teaches and encourages respect for other peoples. It fosters an understanding of the interrelation of language and human nature. Fifteen, indigenous languages expand one's view of the world, liberalize one's experiences, and make one more flexible and tolerant. Sixteen, indigenous languages expand one's world view and limit the barriers between people. Barriers cause distrust and fear. Seventeen, indigenous language study leads to an appreciation of cultural diversity. Eighteen, as immigration increases, we need to prepare for changes in Canadian society. Nineteen, one is at a distinct advantage in the global market if one is as bilingual as possible. Twenty, indigenous languages open the door to art, music, dance, fashion, cuisine, film, philosophy, science, and so forth. Twenty-one, indigenous language study is simply part of a very basic liberal education. To educate is to lead out, to lead out of confinement, narrowness, and darkness.
In addition to the previously mentioned points, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also acknowledges the importance of indigenous languages in places of business. Article 13 states:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected and also to ensure that indigenous peoples can understand and be understood in political, legal and administrative proceedings, where necessary through the provision of interpretation or by other appropriate means.
Lastly, we need to bring light to the TRC calls to action and ensure that the calls to action are being implemented. I would like to review two calls to action that speak directly to indigenous languages.
Call to action 13 states, “We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.”
Call to action 14 states, “We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles: (i) Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.”
Recognition of indigenous languages and support for indigenous language programs stand alongside land rights, health, justice, education, housing, employment, and other services as part of the overall process of pursuing social justice and reconciliation.
In conclusion, I would like to share a quote from Dr. Graham McKay:
One might go so far as to say that without recognition of the Indigenous people and their languages, many other programs will be less effective, because this lack of recognition will show that the underlying attitudes of the dominant society have not changed significantly.
Thank you, mahsi cho for your time and consideration on this very important matter.